Study Guide

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Rebellion

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Part I, Chapter Eight
Randle McMurphy

Then, just as she's rolling along at her biggest and meanest, McMurphy steps out of the latrine door right in front of her, holding that towel around his hips—stops her dead! She shrinks to about head-high to where that towel covers him, and he's grinning down on her. Her own grin is giving way, sagging at the edges.

"Good morning, Miss Rat-shed! How's things on the outside?"

"You can't run around here—in a towel!"

"No?" He looks down at the part of the towel she's eye to eye with, and it's wet and skin tight. "Towels against ward policy too? Well, I guess there's nothin' to do exec—"

"Stop! don't you dare. You get back in that dorm and get your clothes on this instant!"

She sounds like a teacher bawling out a student, so McMurphy hangs his head like a student and says in a voice sounds like he's about to cry, "I can't do that, ma'am. I'm afraid some thief in the night boosted my clothes whilst I slept. I sleep awful sound on the mattresses you have here."

"Somebody boosted...?"

"Pinched. Jobbed. Swiped. Stole," he says happily. "You know, man, like somebody boosted my threads." Saying this tickles him so he goes into a little barefooted dance before her.

"Stole your clothes?"

"That looks like the whole of it."

"But—prison clothes? Why?"

He stops jigging around and hangs his head again. "All I know is that they were there when I went to bed and gone when I got up. Gone slick as a whistle. Oh, I do know they were nothing but prison clothes, coarse and faded and uncouth, ma'am, well I know it—and prison clothes may not seem like much to those as has more. But to a nude man—"

"That outfit," she says, realizing, "was supposed to be picked up. You were issued a uniform of green convalescents this morning."

He shakes his head and sighs, but still don't look up. "No. No, I'm afraid I wasn't. Not a thing this morning but the cap that's on my head and—" (1.8.42-55)

Though McMurphy’s rebellion takes a light-hearted form, Nurse Ratched recognizes rebellion when she sees it. Ah, if only she had a sense of humor!

Part I, Chapter Nine
Randle McMurphy

He [McMurphy] gets seconds on everything and makes a date with the girl pours coffee in the kitchen for when he gets discharged, and he compliments the N**** cook on sunnysiding the best eggs he ever ate. There's bananas for the corn flakes, and he gets a handful, tells the black boy that he'll filch him one 'cause he looks so starved, and the black boy shifts his eyes to look down the hall to where the nurse is sitting in her glass case, and says it ain't allowed for the help to eat with the patients.

"Against ward policy?"

"Tha's right."

"Tough luck"—and peels three bananas right under the black boy's nose and eats one after the other, tells the boy that any time you want one snuck outa the mess hall for you, Sam, you just give the word.

When McMurphy finishes his last banana he slaps his belly and gets up and heads for the door, and the big black boy blocks the door and tells him the rule that patients sit in the mess hall till they all leave at seven-thirty. McMurphy stares at him like he can't believe he's hearing right, then turns and looks at Harding. Harding nods his head, so McMurphy shrugs and goes back to his chair. "I sure don't want to go against that goddamned policy." (1.9.8-12)

Though he pretends to be conforming to the rules, McMurphy consistently rebels against them.

And the third boy mutters, "Of course, the very nature of this plan could indicate that he [McMurphy] is simply a shrewd con man, and not mentally ill at all."

He glances around to see how this strikes her and sees she still hasn't moved or given any sign. But the rest of the staff sits there glaring at him like he's said some awful vulgar thing. He sees how he's stepped way out of bounds and tries to bring it off as a joke by giggling and adding, "You know, like 'He Who Marches Out Of Step Hears Another Drum'"—but it's too late. The first resident turns on him after setting down his cup of coffee and reaching in his pocket for a pipe big as your fist. "Frankly, Alvin," he says to the third boy, "I'm disappointed in you. Even if one hadn't read his history all one should need to do is pay attention to his behavior on the ward to realize how absurd the suggestion is. This man is not only very very sick, but I believe he is definitely a Potential Assaultive. I think that is what Miss Ratched was suspecting when she called this meeting. Don't you recognize the arch type of psychopath? I've never heard of a clearer case. This man is a Napoleon, a Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun."

Another one joins in. He remembers the nurse's comments about Disturbed. "Robert's right, Alvin. Didn't you see the way the man acted out there today? When one of his schemes was thwarted he was up out of his chair, on the verge of violence. You tell us, Doctor Spivey, what do his records say about violence?"

"There is a marked disregard for discipline and authority," the doctor says.

"Right. His history shows, Alvin, that time and again he has acted out his hostilities against authority figures—in school, in the service, in jail! And I think that his performance after the voting furor today is as conclusive an indication as we can have of what to expect in the future." He stops and frowns into his pipe, puts it back in his mouth, and strikes a match and sucks the flame into the bowl with a loud popping sound.

When it's lit he sneaks a look up through the yellow cloud of smoke at the Big Nurse; he must take her silence as agreement because he goes on, more enthusiastic and certain than before. (2.1.32-37)

The staff discusses what to do about McMurphy, but only one person is willing to question whether he’s crazy or just really smart. It is his propensity toward rebellion that makes him not a violent man but, in the eyes of the staff, mentally ill. Yet even within that meeting, you can see that everybody has something to lose if they admit they don’t think he’s crazy. The power Nurse Ratched wields over the staff results in McMurphy’s ongoing diagnosis as mentally ill.

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